Kerala Blasters FC Head Coach Ivan Vukomanovic is delighted with his team’s performance this season that has seen them reach their first Hero Indian Super League (ISL) final in six years. Joining a team who were in 10th place last season and now, making the top four and reaching the 2021-22 Hero ISL final, the Serbian has taken the Kochi-based outfit back to the top of Indian football.

KBFC have been one of the most consistent sides in the league this season and secured their semi-final spot after a victory over Mumbai City FC. But, that set them up against the league stage winners Jamshedpur FC, whom they overcame 2-1 over the two legs.

Looking forward to being on the touchline of this first Hero ISL final, Ivan Vukomanovic attended the pre-match press conference ahead of the 2021-22 Hero ISL final.

Here are some excerpts from his press conference:

What are your initial thoughts before the final?

Seeing all the disappointments that have happened in previous seasons, I think that this year, we came back with the strength and the force that allowed us to be here today. And we are grateful for that. I think that the boys have been doing a great job since day one and we are so pleased to be here today with you guys. I think that it's a huge achievement for the club after a long period and try to prepare and finish with a beauty. So we hope for the best.

For a final, are tactics and strategy as important or less important than the mentality of the players?

I must tell you, honestly, as a former player, and also, as a coach, I experienced both situations being in the finals. These are the easiest games to play because you're motivated, you're concentrated and you're ready. And then you have that individual creativity and motivation to show everything you can do. So all the things we have been doing throughout the whole season, you speak about them, you talk about them during the week, you want to prepare certain things.

We know our opponent, we know each other, we have played twice this season against each other. And on Sunday, I think that it will be a moment of inspiration and creativity. The fact that as a player you dream about these games, I was mentioning also in the previous conferences, the older boys when they start shooting the ball around the house with friends, they dream about playing those games, they dream about playing in front of the crowd, big finals. And these games are easy because you don't have to go deeper to find extra motivation. There is good preparation for the game. It's a pleasure and tomorrow, I hope that our boys will have the pleasure to enjoy that game, show the very best they can and then hope for the best outcome. So the strategy and tactics there are things that we prepare. But in the last seven months, since we started, we know certain things and we're going to repeat them how we defend and how we attack in this kind of game. There will be everything, hard duals, defending tactics, attacking tactics, sprinting transitions, both teams will have to show that tomorrow in order to win the game.

Fans will be there for the final first time in over two years. As a player what is that feeling? And as a coach leading your team into the final, how does it feel?

As a former player and now as a coach, we play football for the fans. I think that in the last couple of months playing without the fans was weird. It was not nice playing in empty stadiums. It was not a good feeling. Now the fact that we know we're going to play in front of the fans, it's extra motivation for the players because again, that's what they're playing for. As a boy you dream about playing in front of crowds. You dream about playing for your people, your town, your city, defending your colors, your logo on your chest. So tomorrow I think it will be a pleasure because that's the joy of football.

When you took up the job did you expect the kind of love and respect of the fans that you seem to have gathered already?

When I had the first contact with our management you do research and when you get this positive feedback, and when you see everything that's happening around Kerala Blasters FC, my first feeling was like I want to be part of it, it gives you goosebumps. In football, if there is an organization with such a fan base, full of energy and emotion, you want to be part of that, because football is emotion. And now from this perspective, I'm grateful to be part of this great family. I'm so grateful to join Kerala Blasters FC and to have chosen this club because it's incredible and something that I cannot describe. It brings a kind of emotion that you want to be there.

As a coach, I like challenges and when we started, I remember talking to the technical staff that it would be a difficult job. But I like challenges. After 10 games against all the opponents, we made a kind of evaluation and I remember in December saying, Guys, we're going to go for the top four, we're going to be there because of the things we want to achieve.

So now today, I'm so grateful, because for those emotions, like you live for those things in football. So I'm really grateful for this kind of respect. I'm the person who always in life first wants to show respect because my parents taught me that if you want to be respected first you must respect, So these kinds of things are going to follow.

Can you give a message to the fans who have been traveling and trying to reach the stadium in numbers?

First of all, we are sorry that we didn't have the opportunity to play all these in the last few months in front of our crowd in Kochi. Then second of all, a big thank you to all of them for all the support that we were feeling, even hear in this Bio-bubble. We were feeling that with all the thousands and thousands of messages and all the posts that they were sharing with us, it gives us great energy.

So tomorrow, what we can promise is that we will do our best as we did in the last 22 games. We will do our best on the pitch, we will fight for them, we will fight for the badge, and try to try to be a better team tomorrow. So again, one big thank you because they are giving so much support to those boys because they deserve it. Really they deserve it. So hopefully tomorrow together we're going to celebrate.